Did Plum Island lab introduce Lyme & West Nile viruses?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2004:
ORIENT POINT, N.Y.–The 850-acre Plum Island Animal Disease
Center, just off Long Island, operated by the USDA and the
Department of Homeland Security, is nominally the first line of
defense for Americans against zoonotic diseases associated with
agriculture–like the avian flu H5N1.
Now New York City corporate attorney Michael C. Carroll, 31,
argues in a newly published book entitled Lab 257 – The Disturbing
Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory, from
William Morrow Inc., that accidents at Plum Island may have
introduced Lyme disease and West Nile fever to the U.S.
“The first outbreak of Lyme disease occurred in Old Lyme,
Connecticut, in 1975,” Carroll pointed out to Newsday staff writer
Bill Bleyer in a pre-publication interview. “Ten miles southwest of
Old Lyme you have Plum Island directly in the flight path of hundreds
of thousands of birds.”
Carroll asserts that Plum Island was at the time breeding
thousands of ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease and were
“impregnated with exotic animal viruses and bacteria.”
According to Carroll, government documents establish that in
1978 holes were found in the roof and air filtration system at the
lab and in the incinerator where infected animal carcasses were
burned. The leaks came to light in 1978 after hoof and mouth disease
escaped from one of the Plum Island buildings, infecting about 200
cattle, sheep, pigs, and horses who were kept outside. All were
killed, lest the disease escape to the mainland.
Of West Nile fever, first detected in the U.S. in New York
City in August 1999, Carroll noted that, “Weeks before the first
human infection, very close to Plum Island, you had 18 horses on 13
horse farms on the North Fork [of Long Island Sound] dying from an
unknown condition that later turned out to be West Nile.”
Newly appointed Plum Island laboratory director Elizabeth
Lautner told Bleyer that “There have been significant upgrades to
Plum Island since 9/11. We have increased the number of guards and
have increased patrols to every part of the island,” Lautner said.
“We have done more extensive screening of potential employees as well
as visitors,” Lautner continued. “Visitors must have an escort at
all times. We have installed electronic surveillance in sensitive
These precautions might keep human spies or saboteurs out,
but would do little to help keep virus-bearing insects in.
USDA spokesperson Sandy Miller Hayes told Bleyer that she
understood “Lyme disease has never been studied on Plum Island,”
because “Lyme disease does not affect livestock,” a disputed point.
Hayes also said that there was no West Nile virus at Plum Island
until after it hit New York City.
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” responded Carroll.
Security at Plum Island has long concerned critics including Mario
Cuomo, formerly governor of New York state, and U.S. Senator
Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
“I’ve been on the island three times through the years,”
environmental journalist Karl Grossman told ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1998,
soon after the island admitted reporters for only the fourth time.
Grossman had previously visited with 1971 and 1978 press tours.
“It is a horrid scene,” Grossman continued, “with cattle
and horses tethered in stalls, dying. There has been a question,”
Grossman added, “of whether the place has been doing biological
warfare research involving animals. The USDA took over Plum Island
from the Army in 1954. The Army used the place for the biological
division of its chemical warfare branch during World War II. Newsday
once did a major piece about how in the early 1950s the Army had
plans to develop on Plum Island diseases with which to poison Soviet
livestock. The Army insisted it never went ahead with the plan.
Also, Newsday did a piece, far less solid, suggesting that African
swine fever virus from Plum Island was possibly used by the CIA to
poison pigs in Cuba.
“What the USDA has said,” Grossman summarized, “is that it
is only involved in ‘defensive’ biological warfare, doing work to
safeguard animals in the U.S. from other nations.”
The USDA has been seeking funding since 1999 to upgrade Plum
Island into a so-called “Level Four” biosecurity lab. The only
large-animal facility in the world with that status as of September
11, 2001 was in Australia.
Ironically, the Boston Globe featured the proposed upgrade on 9/11.
The article drew little notice after the attacks that day on New York
City and Washington D.C.
Since then the federal biodefense research budget has
expended from $305 million per year to nearly $4 billion, Baltimore
Sun reporter Scott Shane wrote on February 11, 2004. But the
biggest chunk of the new money, Shane said, is to be spent on
building a “national biodefense campus” at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
This is to include replacing the existing U.S. Army biodefense unit
at Fort Detrick, at estimated cost of up to $1 billion; building a
$105 million Integrated Research Facility for the National Institutes
of Health; and building a $120 million National Biodefense Analysis
& Countermeasure Center to do “threat characterization” for the
Department of Homeland Security.
All would do animal research. The Integrated Research
Facility would be chiefly an animal research lab.
Added Shane, “The USDA and Department of Defense are
studying a possible lab to research zoonotic diseases. Although Fort
Detrick officials have assigned space on the campus, no final
decision on construction has been made,” according to acting
Agricultural Research Service associate administrator Caird Rexroad.
This leaves H5N1 research more-or-less on ice.
“Influenza kills annually about 50,000 people in this
country,” University of Maryland Center for International & Security
Studies biological warfare expert Milton Leitenberg told Shane. “But
we don’t put our money into that. We’re putting billions of dollars
into a putative threat of disputed relevance at a time when there is
a shortage of flu vaccine and measles vaccine.”
Added Boston University environmental health professor David
M. Ozonoff, “Bioterrorism is hollowing out public health from
within. It is much more likely that bird flu will kill millions of
people than anthrax.”